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Health Department News

Posted on: February 5, 2020

Legionnaires' disease

The Lake County Health Department received reports late Monday of three cases of Legionnaires’ disease, including one death, at Brookdale Senior Living in Vernon Hills, located on Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills. The Brookdale Hawthorn Lakes facility is not impacted. The Health Department has been working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Brookdale staff to investigate potential sources of contamination and to identify individuals who may have been exposed to Legionella bacteria. The senior living community is actively notifying residents, the residents’ identified contact(s), and staff. 

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of severe pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. It is treatable with antibiotics (drugs that kill bacteria in the body). Most people who get sick need care in a hospital but make a full recovery. However, about 1 out of 10 people who get Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

We urge any residents and visitors of the Brookdale facility who are currently experiencing pneumonia symptoms—cough, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches and fever—to see a doctor right away for testing. Early treatment of Legionnaires’ disease reduces the severity of the illness and improves your chances for recovery.

Most healthy people do not get Legionnaires’ disease after being exposed to Legionella bacteria. People at increased risk of getting sick include:

  • People ages 50 years or older
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with a chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
  • People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
  • People with cancer
  • People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure

Legionella bacteria grow in areas of warm water. They have been found in creeks and ponds, water taps (primarily hot water taps), hot water tanks, cooling towers and evaporative condensers, whirlpool spas, and decorative fountains. In order to be infected with the bacteria, a person must breathe in a mist or vapor that contains the bacteria. There is no evidence that the Legionella bacteria are spread from person-to-person.

According to provisional data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, 608 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported statewide in 2019. Legionnaires’ is a reportable disease in the state of Illinois, and cases must be reported to the local health department within seven days. Timely reporting allows identification of additional cases and control of possible contaminated sources.

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